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Category Archives: Horror

If you read The Rusty Nail, you’ll likely see, beyond occasional gardening posts, the chronicles of a certain psychotic moron from Illinois — the guy who fancies himself to be a horror writer but has no grasp on grammar, logic, or manners. I’m not going to mention his name since he likely has Google alerts set up on various variations of his name. Whenever I read reports of his actions, as well as his friends, I’m reminded of the this Katherine Ramslan article I read recently on how stalker psychology actually progresses:

  1. After initial contact, the stalker develops feelings like infatuation, and therefore places the love object on a pedestal.
  2. The stalker then begins to approach the object. It might take a while, but once contact is made, the stalker’s behavior sets him up for rejection.
  3. Rejection triggers the delusion through which the stalker projects his own feelings onto the object: She loves me, too.
  4. The stalker also develops intense anger to mask his shame, which fuels the obsessive pursuit of the object. He now wants to control through harassment or injury.
  5. The stalker must restore his narcissistic fantasy.
  6. Violence is most likely to occur when the love object is devalued, as through an imagined betrayal

The article then offers an interesting set of classifications, too.

Several stalker typologies have been developed, and according to Dr. Michael Zona and his colleagues from the University of Southern California School of Medicine, stalkers appear to come in three basic varieties, with a perverse twist on stalking that adds a fourth important category:

  1. Simple obsessional
    The most common form is male with a female with whom he was once sexually intimate.
  2. Love obsessional
    A love-obsessed stalker tends to idealize a celebrity or someone he has seen from afar and he develops an unrealistic belief that the target person will agree to a relationship.
  3. Erotomania
    Someone suffering from this more extreme obsession believes that the victim loves him or her.
  4. False victimization
    Claiming harassment and stalking when none exists, this behavior is usually carried on by people with histrionic personality disorders.

Another method of categorizing stalkers comes from the team who wrote the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual:

  1. Non-domestic stalker, who has no personal relationship with the victim
  2. Organized (based in a calculated, controlled aggression)
  3. Delusional (based in a fixation like erotomania)
  4. Domestic stalker, who has had a prior relationship with the victim and feels motivated to continue the relationship; this constitutes around 60 percent of stalkers and the aggression often culminates in violence.

Stalkers tend to be unemployed or underemployed, but are smarter than other criminals. They often have a history of failed intimate relationships. They tend to devalue their victims and to sexualize them. They also idealize certain people, minimize what they are doing to resist, project onto people motives and actions that have no basis in truth, and rationalize that the target person deserves to be harassed and violated.

My forthcoming poetry anthology just got a good pre-press blurb….

Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims brings unusual depth, creativity and chillingly potent imagery to what is often referred to as “horror poetry.” The poems within this unique volume are not simply horrific, they’re genuinely lyrical and wonderfully human stories as well, and that’s not easily accomplished by any poet, liviing, dead, or somewhere in between.

–T.M. Wright, author of “Bone Soup” (Cemetery Dance, 2009) and “Blue Canoe,” a novel (PS Publications, 2009).

Thanks Terry!

If one were to take a look at the current spate of zombie films and books, three things pop up: the zombies themselves are the results of either mutation, viral infection, or other-worldly possession. It’s the mutation and infection one routinely sees in either Romero’s films, or in the Resident Evil movies. As for other worldly possession, that seems to come almost exclusively, these days, in Brian Keene’s three best selling zombie books, The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea. There is, however, a much older tradition, one that predates Night of Living Dead. Zombies used to be province of voodoo films, where outsiders and/or tourists come accidentally traipse into a mess of indigeneous culture.

That’s certainly the case with All Souls Day. Basically, the director, writer, and producers of the movie sought to buck the current zombie trend and harken back to the sort of film Lugosi made with White Zombie. The resulting story places an American couple driving through Mexico. They end up in a desolate little town, and unbeknowst to them, they interrupted a human sacrifice. All Souls Day, a post-halloween holiday in Mexico, is a day where the dead routinely rise. But do they only savagely want to eat people? Or is the issue more complicated?

I’m not going to go there, at this moment. Basically, the acting is so-so. The characterization strikes one as a little trite, and the story, with it’s shocking twists and turns, is workable. In short, All Souls Day is a mediocre film, but it’s one that’s not a bore to watch, at least.

–Rich Ristow

Or, perhaps, for better truth in advertising, perhaps the subject line should read, “Attack of the Rat People.” Regardless, After Dark’s Mulberry Street is a startlingly good addition to the zombie genre. Perhaps it would be best, first, to describe what the movie isn’t. It isn’t a George Romero knock off, and it certainly isn’t an attempt to clone 28 Days Later. It’s a movie that holds its own in its own right, and in a film sub-genre that’s rapidly becoming cliche, there’s enough here to keep the film fresh and interesting.

In that regard, perhaps one comparison to 28 Days Later is apt. Mulberry Street, like 28 Days Later, is firmly grounded in a sense of place. 28 Days Later gave the viewer iconic and apocalyptic images of London — so did the sequel, 28 Weeks Later. Mulberry Street is New York City through and through — there’s no possible way this film could be set anywhere else. Before the outbreak occurs, the viewer is experiences the cacophony that’s NYC. Car horns, people, construction, subways — New York is a loud, busy place. And not only does a movie viewer ample New York imagery, but the film also captures the place unique sound scape.

And there’s more. The characters are all believable New Yorkers, whether it’s Clutch (Nick Damici) as a gruff retired boxer or even some of the elderly men that live Clutch’s building. Every one of Clutch’s neighbors comes off as well drawn and not anything remotely close to a cliche. And that’s an important factor.

Mulberry Street is also about a group of renters facing eviction. Their building is deteriorating around them, and instead of making repairs, the new owner wants all of them out, so that he can tear the building down a build something a little more upscale. Given that New York has a fierce housing market, the renters don’t have a whole lot of options. Recently, New York City, as well as parts of Northern and Coastal New Jersey have undergone a sense of gentrification that favors the rich over the lower socioeconomic classes. For Mulberry Street, this is the problem the tenants face before the outbreak — and it’s necessary if the filmmaker wants to be true to his setting.

The whole outbreak phenomenon, also, is uniquely New York. It starts in the subway, as infected rats attack commuters. The Municipal Transit Authority tries to control the situation, but ultimately, fails. Both infected rats and people stream out of the subway and eventually sparks chaotic violence. For Clutch and his neighbors in their Mulberry Street walk-up, survival mean staying inside their tenement, and that can only go so far, as the walls are crumbling. As for the infected, once the contagion sets in, they begin to look more like rat-people then what one would traditionally call a “zombie.”

One more thing has to be said. For a film that wears New York City on it’s sleeve, there’s a bit of class displayed here. New York City, as most know, was the sight of real-life horror and terror on September 11th. There’s hardly a mention of it, and rightly so. Going heavy on 9/11 imagery would not only be off-topic, but it would come off as grossly exploitative. There’s a mention of Bin Laden towards the beginning, but that’s in how one of the characters reacts to the news. That’s believable because in recent history, whether it was the blackouts or crane collapses, terrorism has always been the first through in most people’s head. So, the one lone, quick reference to 9/11 adds to the sense of place without becoming a distraction.

Over all, for a straight to DVD release, Mulberry Street is worth it’s price tag. As a horror film, it works very well. Also, there’s enough here to keep the movie from venturing into cliched territory. So, while the themes and tropes may be wholly familiar, it uses them very effectively.

–Rich Ristow

The rule of thumb, usually, with sequels, are that they usually never equal what came before. That’s the case with Brian Keene’s Ghost Walk. The novel follows Keene’s Dark Hollow, which might very well be Keene’s best mass market paperback to date — keeping in mind that this reviewer has yet to read Terminal or The Conquering Worms.

There’s a reason, though, why Ghost Walk really doesn’t even come close. Dark Hollow was an emotionally charged read from beginning to end. Adam Senft starts the book with a history of emotional trauma — a miscarriage has disrupted his and his wife’s desire to have kids, and Senft’s problems just spiral out of control. For most married men, a wife’s infidelity is always a secret fear, and Keene took it a bit further. Senft’s wife comes under the control of a satyr named Hylinus, and the implications, biologically speaking, litterally sends Senft over the edge.

Senft, all the while, remains a sympathetic character. Throughout Dark Hollow neither he nor his creator, Keene, ever step back and ask for people’s empathy. If they had, the result would have been rather pathetic. Instead, Senft blunders forward, doing the best he can, and one wonders, as a reader turns the pages, whether that would be enough.

Ghost Walk essentially lacks that emotional charge, and as a result, it also lacks the chaotic energy that propels the reader forward. Basically, it’s the story of a group of people who must make it to LeHorn’s Hollow before an ever-expansive darkness overtakes and snuffs out the world. None of the characters, really, have to look into themselves the way Senft did, and so the drama, here, is more mechanical than psychological. To be honest — and I hate saying this — the novel comes off as a little rote and paint-by-the-numbers.

Of Keene’s MMPB’s I’ve read, I’d rank this towards the bottom, right above Ghoul, which I didn’t like for one pestersome issue of writing. The usual things I look forward to in Keene novel, like characters facing the world surrounding them, was actually a little more pronounced in Ghoul. It’s just that novel had a lot of intruding exposition about the 1980’s that interferred with the flow of the story. Ghost Walk reads smoother, even if the characters are not as dynamic as one would hope for.

Still, it has to be said: a Keene dud, at the moment, is still far better than a lot of what’s floating around the horror genre. Ghost Walk is not a terrible novel, and in terms of writing craft, I wouldn’t classify it as a failure. It’s just not as good as what Brian Keene can do. Dead Sea and Dark Hollow set higher bars, standards, and expectations. Sadly, Ghost Walk doesn’t even come close.

–Rich Ristow

That warehouse job is just a memory, now. I’ve been laid off for weeks now, and I actively don’t expect to be called back to work. The beauty of that job, in it’s mindlessness, was listening to podcasts all day. Now, not in that environment, my consumption of podcasts has diminished greatly. On the upside, I interview at a university tomorrow, which is actually more in line with my employment history. I’m hoping for the best. At any rate, here are some of the podcasts I’ve thought about since getting laid off:

Pseudopod 013: Redmond’s Private Screening by Kevin J. Anderson

It should be noted that Kevin J. Anderson and Kevin Anderson are not the same people. I’m not saying that to be a dick, but to point out that They are two separate people. The initial J. makes a difference. I also say this because both writers have had stories produced and streamed by Pseudopod. One has written oodles of novels and the other has written primarily short stories. For the record, I’ve enjoyed the stories of both writers. “Redmond’s Private Screening” is an interesting ghost story, about Japanese immigrants, and ritual disembowelment. It’s also interesting in how it uses the early history of movie making. Recommended.

Pendant: Seminar Anthology

Audio drama broken up into an “anthology” set up where each episode is a college course on humanity. Interesting.

Science fiction, one is told, was created by Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley. It is in, after all, Frankenstein,that the world meets the beginning of a trope: that of the “mad scientist.” Of course, during that time period, the hard sciences were just in their infancies, and retrospectively, a lot of scientists, like Johann Conrad Dippel, came off as rather ghoulish. Of course, when one knows next to little about the human body, one does literally have to open one up and look around. Hence, the whole idea of the grave-robbing, learned mad man, stitching together body parts while looking for a way to defeat death.

There’s also another very common take on the mad scientist trope, one that can be found in Nathaniel Hawthorne and his short story “The Birthmark.” Instead of trying to defeat death, Aylmer wants to perfect humanity, and one specimen in particular, his wife Georgiana. She’s beautiful, save for one blemish: a birthmark. However, instead of accepting his wife as she is, he ultimately destroys her. Sure, he’s able to remove the birthmark, but kills his wife in the process.

Both Shelley and Hawthorne’s stories are still relevant to today. In a world where science and computers are quickly redefining everything, bio-ethicists certainly have had their hands full. After all, when cloning sheep has become science fact and not science fiction anymore, the murky boundaries take on a new immediacy.

This is why Kim Paffenroth’s “Orpheus and the Pearl” is a fascinating read. As a work of horror and science fiction, it’s more in the spirit of Shelley and Hawthorne than, say, Cory Doctorow. This is partly due to the more antiquated and nearly gothic setting — there is a mansion, after all.

The plot is thus: a scientist has reanimated the corpse of his wife. She’s different, changed — preferring liquor, raw meat, and so on. The scientist brings in a female psychologist to sort the mess out. Of course, things don’t end the way a reader might expect.

Given that horror is sometimes dominated by trends, just like every other nook and cranny of the publishing world, Paffenroth’s tale is refreshingly new. His writing here, just like in his excellent zombie novel “Dying to Live,” seems more focused on character development and psychology rather than the pyrotechnics of violence and gore. Most importantly, despite the bizarre situations that his characters may find themselves in, sometimes, there is always a sense of heart at work.

“Orpheus and the Pearl” is a limited edition signed chapbook, but Magus Press also has a few unsigned reserve copies left. Recently, Magus also marked down the prices on both. So, now may be a perfect time to snap one up. After they’re gone, they’ll be no other printings.

–Rich Ristow

Well, according to their Submission Guidelines, Apex Digest is now paying a professional rate for fiction. So, publishing there helps one with collecting the necessary bylines to get into the HWA. While on the site, I realized that I hadn’t looked at their LiveJournal in quite awhile. There, they have video of Fran Friel reading a story. The great thing about Apex putting her collectionout is this: Mama’s Boy, as the limited Insidious Publications novella, is out of print, and now, expensive of the secondary market.  It’s available again.